School-age children are in serious danger of labelling and victimisation as the Malaysian government begins endorsing guidelines to identify tell-tale signs of homosexuality at seminars attended by over 1500 parents and teachers.
10 seminars have so far taken place, where leaflets were handed out containing these guidelines on how to recognise a LGBT child:
- ‘Have a muscular body and like to show their body by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes’
- ‘Prefer tight and light-coloured clothes’
- ‘Like to bring big handbags, similar to those used by women, when hanging out’
- ‘Distance themselves from other women… besides their female companions’
- ‘Like to hang out, have meals and sleep in the company of women’
- ‘Have no affection for men’
Wednesday’s “Parenting in addressing the issue of LGBTs” seminar in Penang, the fourth state to conduct anti-gay teachings, was attended by over 1500 parents and teachers who were handed out leaflets warning of symptoms of homosexuality. It was the 10th in a new series of seminars conducted by Malaysia’s Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi, who said the event was organised in an effort to prevent the spread of an unhealthy lifestyle:
“Youths are easily influenced by websites and blogs relating to LGBT groups. This can also spread among their friends. We are worried that this happens during schooling time.”
A spokesman for the Teachers’ Association added: “It is a multi-religious and multi-cultural [event], after all, all religions are basically against that type of behaviour.”
The fear that a school environment could encourage homosexual promotion is an ill-thought one, as Malaysia has a heavy history of education officials shunning gay people. Last year, teachers sent 66 ‘effeminate’ Muslim school boys to corrective camps to be shown how to become men. Will the government next ban their own religion in case segregation of males and females, common in Islam, encourages its followers to become gay?
60% of the Malaysian population is Muslim, and the country is one where homophobia is rife and encouraged by law. These supposed stereotypes and the exposure of these so-called symptoms come at a crucial time, as general elections are due to take place. This follows a March report that the federal government was said to be working to curb the “problem” of homosexuality. Rights activists believe the seminars are a move to win popularity, particularly amongst Muslims, who often publicly favour an austere anti-gay agenda.
Malaysian human rights activist Clarence Sim agreed that the seminar: “has everything to do with politics.”
“The government are trying to portray LGBTs as a threat to Malaysian society and culture/tradition. Since the ban of Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual LGBT awareness event, the Malaysian government has made anti-LGBT its agenda. As we are coming up to a general election soon, it is believed they are trying to win the majority votes by condemning LGBTs.”
Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, which holds a pertinent influence on the government officials’ anti-gay stance that is often promoted in local media. In fact, in 1994, all LGBT persons were banned from appearing on state-controlled media.
Under Section 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code, gays and lesbians face being whipped, fined or imprisoned for up to 20 years. Muslims also face punishment in Islamic law, resulting in sentencing from both Civil and Muslim courts. The former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, has spent six years in prison for sodomy. Oral sex is also banned between any genders.
These seminars follow a long history of education officials hitting headlines for their promotion of homophobia. In 2000, the then head of education and research at Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs Department – Abdul Kadir Che Kob – was reported as saying that homosexuality “is a crime worse than murder.” Abdul’s department operates as morality police, with 50 enforcement officers across Malaysia, empowered to arrest LGBT Muslims. In an environment highly dangerous for LGBT people, he added: “Gay people think being gay is in fashion.”
On 12 September, the targeting of the LGBT community was supported by another influential religious figure – and lawyer. VP of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia, Azril Mohd Amin, was reported saying his country could not accept LGBT rights in the ASEAN human rights declaration because of their duty of “protecting the human race.” Graduated from the University of London with a MA in Human Rights, he said in a letter to a Malaysian newspaper, that providing the gay people with any form of social recognition: “would be confusing and destructive to the development and witness of our own children.”
This demonisation of LGBT children has been somewhat condemned by Tony Pua – Malaysian educator and member of parliament for the opposition Democratic Action Party – who said the seminars are: “a clear-cut attempt to stereotype what a ‘typical’ homosexual, or a gay or lesbian, how they would behave from a time when they’re young, and hopefully identify them, and put them through some sort of regime of change or indoctrination.” However, hope for electoral change to his party would not result in the disappearance of homophobia, as he also added: “we frown on homosexuality.”
Whilst LGBT adults have more rights in Britain, Stonewall – a charity which promotes acceptance of gay students in schools – recently published findings showing that, even in the UK, teachers ignored homophobic remarks made by pupils. 25% of students surveyed reported teachers had not acted on comments made, and this rose to a third in faith schools.
This series of seminars highlight a crucial need to eradicate labelling and exclusion of young people in education, and the on-going struggle for LGBT Malays that live in fear. The events also mean children are now being targeted; at threat of being labelled, excluded and punished from an even younger age. The seminars, and education officials responsible, have the power to alter their future before they will even have the opportunity to develop into an already-hostile environment.